BHM Biography: Alice Coachman

Written by: Emily Vargo

On November 9, 1923, in Albany, Georgia, an amazing athlete that would make history was born. This athlete is Alice Coachman.

In 1938 Alice enrolled at Maddison high school and joined the track team. She took an interest in the high jump and worked hard every day to develop her skills.

Since Alice was black and a woman, she had to get creative when training. She would run barefoot on dirt paths by her house and practice jumping with whatever materials she could find and make.

In a year of her hard work and dedication, she drew the attention of the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where she earned a scholarship.

So, at age 16, Alice went to Tuskegee Preparatory School. She worked on campus, trained, and studied. She earned a degree in dressmaking in 1946.

Alice participated in the amateur athletic union women’s national championship, where she competed barefoot and broke the college and national high jump records.

During the years 1939-1948, she won 10 national championships in a row. Besides dominating in the high jump, Alice also won national championships in the 50-meter dash, 100-meter dash, and 4 x 4 relay team for Tuskegee college.

In 1940 and 1944, Alice was supposed to go to the Olympic games, but the Olympics were canceled due to World War II. But finally, in 1948, Alice went to the Olympics in London.

At the Olympics, on her first jump, she reached a high of 5ft 6 1⁄8 inches. Alice was the only American woman to win gold in 1948, and her medal was presented to her by King George VI.

When she returned to the United States, she became a celebrity. She was greeted with parades and met President Harry Truman and former First lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Alice decided to go to Albany state college, where she earned her bachelor’s in Home Economics and a minor in science. Alice graduated in 1949 and became a teacher and a track and field instructor.

In 1952 she became the first African-American woman to endorse an international product when she was signed as a spokesperson by the Coca-Cola Company featured prominently on billboards alongside 1936 Olympic winner Jesse Owens.

At age 24, Alice decided to leave her athletic career behind and dedicate her life to education and job corps. In 1979 Alice was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

At the 1996 summer Olympics, Alice was honored as one of the 100 greatest Olympians. Alice was also inducted into the USA Track and Field hall of fame in 1975 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2004. On July 14, 2014, Alice passed away and left behind an inspiring legacy.

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